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Art

How do we know what we are making is good art/How to judge our work 

Insanity Means tying your well-being to what other people say or do…Sanity means tying it to your actions. Marcus Aurelius

 It is very difficult to have an exact metric of evaluation of our art; if it is good or bad.

Let us think about it. What do we define as good art? Is it about the technique that we used? Alternatively, the ability to transmit a certain feeling to the public; is it the color composition? The details? Is it because the art sells a lot?

Maybe I should start first by defining what art is. According to dictionaries, art is the purposeful expression of human creative skill or imagination that makes the audience feel something/it has beauty and emotional power. Typically in a visual form such as painting, sculpture, etc.

Therefore, now we know that art makes people feel something and what they feel or interpret is totally out of our control.

Now let us move on to another question. What is the meaning of good?

Good is an adjective. It means to be desired or approved of, having the required qualities of a high standard. 

What is bad? Adjective of poor quality or standard/unpleasant or unwelcome; not such has to be hoped.

Given these points, we can reflect and see that we have no control over what is supposed to be considered good or bad — especially in art.

The viewer or critics have their feelings, an idiosyncratic way of analyzing art; some do not know how to communicate with the piece, and others use their criteria to evaluate what they see.

Consequently, if we want to judge our piece of work by external metrics or the approval of others, we are pretty doomed and left confused; agonizing and waiting constantly for approval and devaluating our job every time someone (who states an opinion) does not like it. It’s overwhelming.

That is why it’s important that we establish with ourselves. What do we define as good art, while also working on understanding what are our values concerning our job are; and what internal guidelines we use to judge our work. What do we define as a good job? 

Questioning our values

To be at peace with ourselves, we need to know ourselves. Caitlin Matthews

The why questions are very important to determine and understand our feelings, ideas, and values.

Someone can ask me why it is important to understand and question our values. For me, the answer is simple because most of the time we value things that are the cause of “99%” of our suffering. It is very important to understand the why of certain beliefs we have because the same can cause us great pain or happiness.

 I understand that honest self-questioning can be difficult, but it’s also freeing.

For example, if I have the belief that selling my paintings = my work is good, then the day that I don’t sell, I will believe that my work is not good. Which is wrong. It’s not a sustainable metric of success or evaluation.

People, collectors, buyers, whatever we want to call them, buy art for various reasons outside of our control. Not only because the work is good; they can buy for emotional reasons, for status, because they are being influenced to buy, or because the market wants a certain type of art or work and other agendas.

We have to know or at least try to understand all the factors that do determine sell; not just being anchored on vague assumptions that are naïve.

When we start relying on people’s opinions or on sells to judge our work, we can become frustrated, disappointed, resentful, and confused. We lose sight of our process and we begin to distrust ourselves.

The important questions to be done for deep reflection are:

  1. Which metric do I believe my work is considered good or bad?
  2. Do I believe my work is good only when people buy it (I had this belief) or approve it?
  3. What systems do I use to understand if my work is good or not?
  4. What are my values? 
  5. What do I believe is important in my career and creative process?
  6. What is my definition of success?
  7. Why do I create?
  8. Do I compare my work to other artists’ work?

Depending on what we answer, we can start deciding what are the attitudes or changes that we have to make in our values, so we can have a harmonious and healthy relationship with our creative work and art.

Being dependent on external approval or validation, is the most unstable and unfair way to evaluate our work. Not only are we restricting our happiness, but we are dependent on someone to validate us and if it does not happen … it’s a tragedy. 

Do we need to do that for us? No, we don’t. It’s very important to have a clear mind and wisdom.

 Unfortunately, our society puts a lot of value on numbers (we are very influenced by that) and more than ever, we believe that everything that has worth is and must be a best seller. And this can be very dangerous.

Recovering a sense of direction/ How can we judge our work?

The world is full of people that have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for. Joseph Campbell

I believe we have to create our system of evaluation/judgment for our art/job. A sustainable system that is compassionate and growth-oriented, and that makes us understand if we are developing in our art; and if we are going in the right direction of our goals, desires, and systems.

We always have to remember one thing: that to be a good artist we must be a bad one. 

First and as always, we have to question or do better “detective work” on the methods or systems that we implement in our work for better results; and create new values around our beliefs.

For example, questions like:

  1. What did not work in the last 6 months?
  2. What do I want to put in my piece? What can I change?
  3. Do I need or want to experiment more?
  4. What are my frequent mistakes in composition, color combination or anything you feel is off in your work.
  5. What did I learn from my mistakes?
  6. What do I see that I can make it better? 
  7. How can I bring more of myself into my work?
  8. What systems can I put in action?
  9. Do I need to paint, write or sculpt 2 times a day?
  10. Do I need books to learn more about a certain subject or topic that I am working on?
  11. Where can I cultivate more boldness?
  12. How can I have more joy during my work?
  13. What is my relationship with my art?

What we aim at determines what we see, it is crucial to have clarity on our values and necessities; to know what we want and what we can do to help ourselves. I am not saying it’s an easy process, but it’s necessary. 

 We have to be the captains of our ships and masters of our faith. We have to use our reflections and our thoughts constructively. We have to trust ourselves and be able to choose and decide what is good, bad, and messy for us.

Sometimes I think we are blinded to our powers by negative beliefs, values and assumptions. Consequently, we disqualify ourselves in words and deeds.

There are things we can control and there are things we cannot control

My dear friends, there is something we have to put in our minds or else we are going to suffer. In life, there are things we can control and there are things we cannot control.

Things we can control are our choices, our habits, our beliefs, our ethics, our values, who we want to date, what we want to eat or read, what type of matcha latte we want to drink, or if we don’t want to see our in-laws because today we have no patience to listen to passive-aggressive comments.

The Things we cannot control are PEOPLES’ OPINIONS, moods, decisions, actions, pleasing everyone (we cannot please everyone, it’s impossible), the past and so on.

It is important to acknowledge and have responsibility for our mental sanity and spiritual balance. 

Committing ourselves to self-compassion, resolution of our issues and emotions, watching over us so we do not block our process.

We can only guarantee our choices and actions; it is very dangerous when we work on our projects to believe that everybody would like and love, or be obsessively waiting for it.

The minute our project is out there in the world, we lose total control. The work will be received and judged by other people; everything will depend on them.

We cannot control whether our work is going to be appreciated and validated.

But this should not be a reason for defeat or thinking that our job is not good enough. Why are we giving power to others to determine what is good or bad for us? We have to determine that, not external opinions.

It’s unstable. You will get crazy. Doing what’s right for us in the best possible manner to go through our work and have a healthy relationship with it.

A successful outcome is never guaranteed. We have little control for the external validation or rewards for our work. 

Life sometimes gives us surprising failures, but we learn from them when we fulfill our standards. That’s when we feel happy and proud to accomplish our work. That’s where we can say I did good work, job, piece of art, etc.

We cannot let the opinion of others motivate us or determine whether something is worth it or good, but we also have to be very careful with our internal talk. Because sometimes we can be monsters to ourselves and sabotage our process.

 That is why I repeat, let us examine our thoughts and create sustainable and compassionate values and systems for our work/art.

To conclude this piece I leave a very beautiful quote from Piero Ferrucci to reflect on and it goes like this:

 How often- even before we began- have we declared a task ‘impossible’ And how often have we construed a picture of ourselves as being inadequate…A great deal depends upon the thought patterns we choose and on the persistence with which we affirm them.

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by artandotherstories

Emilia Duarte, Mozambican multidisciplinary artist/writer, painter-illustrator, creator of Mimiska and clinical psychologist.


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